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Global rankings expose flaws in Government’s education vision
The latest global league table of educational performance shows that the Coalition Government’s plans for education are based on little more than myth and distortion.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranks each nation annually on its performance in reading, maths and science, based on tests taken by a sample of 15 year olds from each country.
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data shows that the educational achievement of pupils in the UK is in line with other developed nations and that attainment is not declining, contrary to what the Coalition Government keeps claiming.
‘Elitist’ league tables condemned
The publication of secondary school league tables, which for the first time ranked schools’ performance in a narrow range of subjects, sums up the Coalition Government’s ‘relentlessly elitist’ approach to education, the NASUWT has said.
Focusing on schools’ performance in a narrow range of English Baccalaureate subjects – English, maths, a foreign language, sciences and geography or history – “fails to acknowledge the different learning requirements of pupils,” and “signals a bleak future for young people,” Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said.
For the first time the tables also included details of how much money schools get and how they spend it, a move that was also criticised by Ms Keates.
“Michael Gove may want parents to ‘go compare’ schools, but they will not be comparing like with like,” she said.
“Publishing raw spending totals is meaningless unless parents also have an understanding of the wider circumstances in which each school is operating. Such a move shows that this Government sees schools as little more than market entities, with profit and loss its chief concern.”
Ministers have repeatedly sought to paint England’s education system as in a state of chaos and irretrievable breakdown to justify their assault on state education and the decision to encourage private providers to set up and run schools.
The illusions at the heart of the Coalition’s education policy – that the private sector knows best and that competition pushes up results – are exposed by the PISA data.
The statistics show that the highest performing nations tend to have education systems that are inclusive, coherent and comprehensive in nature, qualities of the English system that are being jeopardised by the Coalition Government’s push towards an increasingly fragmented and divisive education landscape.
The PISA study also demonstrates that when social class is taken into account the difference between private and state sector student attainment is ‘entirely eliminated’, highlighting the difference that class and affluence makes to results.
Given the vastly different social and special educational needs (SEN) intakes between the private and public sectors, the statistics show that the real issue the Coalition Government should be addressing is eliminating differences in social class, rather than being concerned with making changes to school structures.
Despite the constant rhetoric from the Coalition seeking to disparage the quality of public services, a recent study from charity the Sutton Trust confirmed that when at university, state comprehensive-educated students fared better than their private school counterparts, despite lacking the well-funded extra tuition and financial support available to private school students.
The findings from PISA and the Sutton Trust both demonstrate that a fully funded, resourced and publically owned education system is the best way of ensuring that all children, regardless of their background, achieve their educational potential.
In Wales, criticism of so-called ‘classroom complacency’ by Education Minister Leighton Andrews following the publication of Wales’ PISA results was also dismissed by the NASUWT.
The Union pointed out that PISA analysis indicates that educational outcomes are higher in countries whose schools are well resourced and where funding is targeted efficiently. However, the NASUWT highlighted the difficulties for teachers in Wales, who have to contend with a £604 per pupil funding gap compared to schools in England.
The NASUWT has called on Mr Andrews to take steps to close this gap, rather than seeking to lay the blame at the door of hard-working teachers.
Similarly, while teachers in Scotland must be congratulated for their country’s encouraging performance in the PISA rankings, the Union urged the Scottish Government not to overlook the impending threat posed to pupil attainment by the planned reforms to teachers’ pay and conditions.
Major cuts to pay and conditions, announced in the Scottish budget for 2011/12, will seriously impact upon the standard of education, the NASUWT has predicted, urging Ministers to rethink its plans.